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Understanding parental expectations and participants' experiences research notes.

An understanding of expectations and experiences of summer camp can prove extremely beneficial in camper recruitment. The following studies were presented at the 2005 Camp Research Symposium held at the American Camp Association National Conference and provide practical applications for camp directors and staff to consider for the current season and beyond.

Factors that Motivate Parents to Enroll Children in Summer Camp Programs Youth and Their Time Spent Outdoors Impacts of Wilderness-Based Expedition Trips on Participants' Self-Esteem

Factors that Motivate Parents to Enroll Children in Summer Camp Programs Jeff Jacobs, Cal Poly State University, Recreation, Parks, & Tourism Administration

This study assessed the factors that motivate parents to enroll their children in summer camp programs. Adults picking up their children during the 2004 summer camp season from Camp Henry, a traditional summer camp, were asked to complete a survey. Camp Henry, a residential, nonprofit Presbyterian, coed summer camp located in western Michigan serves over thirteen hundred campers each summer, with most campers attending for a one-week session. Campers range in age from seven to seventeen and come predominately from families living within two hundred miles of the camp, which encompasses the area between Chicago and Detroit. Completed questionnaires were collected from adults responsible for picking up 48 percent of departing campers. Of the adults that were asked to participate in this study there was a 92 percent response rate. The instrument that was used for this study was a self-administered questionnaire that focused on the factors that influenced a parents' decision to select Camp Henry as well as the camper benefits that were most important to parents. The question on motivational factors considered nine different attributes and utilized a five-point Liker scale. The question on camper benefits considered eleven different aspects and utilized the same five-point Liker scale.

The top five factors that motivate parents to enroll children in summer camp programs are ranked as follows:

1. Quality of Staff and Counselors

2. The Camp's Reputation

3. Programs and Activities

4. Facilities

5. Mission or Program Emphasis

The top five camper benefits that are most important to parents are ranked as follows:

1. Increased Self-Esteem

2. Respect for Others

3. Fun/Enjoyment

4. Positive Role Models

5. Increased Independence

The camp industry is becoming more and more competitive. In an effort to "fill beds," camps have taken on aggressive and innovative marketing campaigns--including new and improved Web sites, highway billboards, and large-screen advertising at movie theaters. Yet, several camp professionals and board members will admit to being out of touch with the needs and wants of Generation Y, and therefore, may be missing the mark with their marketing efforts. In order to be more effective, camping administrators need to know what factors are motivating parents to send their children to summer camp, what benefits are most important to them, and what do they see as the future priorities of summer camping. The old camp mission statement, written forty, sixty, or eighty years ago may no longer resonate with today's campers and parents. While camp traditions remain important, and core values may continue to be the bedrock of camping programs, a new wrapper may be in order to help put some muscle back in the mission and help align a camp's marketing program with the youth and parents of today.

Camp professionals should:

1. Pursue strategies that will increase the likelihood of their program delivering the top five camper benefits.

2. Ensure that marketing and promotional materials emphasize the top five factors that motivate parents to enroll children in summer camp programs.

3. Conduct a local study to assess the motivational factors and camper benefits most important to their parent population.

4. Revisit mission statements with an eye toward targeting the needs and interests of the campers and parents of today.

The findings of this study allow camp professionals to better understand what parents are looking for in summer camp programs. This information will help shape marketing and recruitment efforts. In addition, the results provide an opportunity to fine-tune mission statements in an effort to make them more powerful and meaningful as camp professionals attempt to create a shared vision of camp that all stakeholders, including parents and campers, can rally around.

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Youth and Their Time Spent Outdoors Kate Weidner,, and Mike Leigh

How do people begin their interest in outdoor recreation, specifically outdoor camping? This study explored the level of outdoor camping activity as part of the program for Girl Scout troops in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. For the survey instrument, outdoor camping was defined as "spending one or more nights in the outdoors sleeping in a tent, cabin with no running water or electricity, or under the stars." Those who had been camping were asked to complete the full survey at their own pace. Those who had not been camping received a very similar, but shorter survey. If girls had questions, they were answered individually. Questions in the survey included ones about their Girl Scout experience, camping experience(s), favorite aspects of camping, perceived benefits from camping, age, years of Girl Scout membership, and camping decisions influences.

Responses were received from 128 girls; of these, 124 (99.8 percent) had previous outdoor camping experience. The mean age of respondents was 11.4 years with a range of 8.5 to 16 years. Mean years of Girl Scout membership was 5.43 years with a range of 0 to 11 years. Nearly all (97 percent) of the girls wanted to camp again with the Girl Scouts and 98 percent would like to camp with their family. Of the girls first camping experience, 56 percent were with the Girl Scouts, and 39 percent of them camped with family for the first time. Of the girls who have camped with the Girl Scouts, 65 percent had also gone camping with their family. We do not know if the child's positive experience influences the parents' interest in camping. It does seem that some girls would not have had a camping experience if it were not for their involvement in Girl Scouting. Girls were asked "How did you feel about going camping the first time?" The response scale was 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (Strongly disagree). I looked forward to camping (1.63). I was excited about going (1.77). I was nervous (3.53). I felt like I had to go (3.81). I was worried (3.92). Camping seems to be a highly anticipated event. Girls seemed to be slightly nervous as opposed to worried about their first camping trip.

Practical Applications for Directors

Girl Scout councils should support troop camp to aid in the progression to day and resident camping opportunities. Councils could aid by making outdoor training friendly to adults who do not have camp experience, creating tools that troop leaders could use to teach girls camping skills, and by offering trainings often and in a variety of areas. Councils should also have a progression of outdoor activities for troops to sign up for in case their adult leadership is less confident. By planning half-day events for young girls at council camp properties, girls can learn about the outdoors and get used to the environment. They could progress to the next level of overnight camping.

Other agency camps and independent camps could partner with local Girl Scout troops. Girl Scout councils can be quite large with some of the constituents living closer to your camp than to their own Girl Scout sponsored property. By offering your property as a training or event site, you can find new customers for your site. Girl Scout troops are interested in sites for weekend camping.

By finding out if your campers engage in outdoor recreation beyond what they do when they are on your site, you might be able to find ways to reach new customers for your camp. By researching expectations that your campers have about camp and the outdoors, you might be able to alleviate fears that they might have about the unknown. Your marketing to youth can be on their level and address their concerns about what camp and the outdoors environment at camp might be like.

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Impacts of Wilderness-Based Expedition Trips on Participants' Self-Esteem Tomas Amodio and Sarah Richardson, Department of Recreation and Parks Management, California State University, Chico

This study was designed to analyze the effect of wilderness-based expeditions on the self-concept of adolescents participating in expeditionary length trips at Camp Manito-wish, YMCA. The study assessed pre- and post-trip changes to self-concept and explores the effects of pre-trip motivation, trip length, program modality, post-trip satisfaction, and participant gender on these changes. The six research questions guiding this study asked if there was indeed a self-concept change after a wilderness experience. And if so, which of these factors were essential in influencing that change.

The population is composed entirely of campers participating in Manito-wish summer 2002 Outpost trips. These trips include the Isle Royal (fourteen day backpacking trip); Pioneers (fourteen day canoe trip); Georgian Bay (fourteen day sea kayak trip); Westerns (twenty-five day backpacking trip); Mariner (twenty-five day sea kayak trip); and the Expeditionary Backpacking (forty-three day backpacking trip). The programs the campers participated in ranged from fourteen to forty-three days in length and the campers' ages ranged from fourteen to nineteen. All are single sex trips of four to six participants, led by one leader. The total population was 103, with a sample size of 94, and a response rate of 91.3 percent. This included all participants on all trips including the one trip that was not surveyed upon return from their trip due to time constraints. All participants in the Outpost program were either invited to attend after having participated in a prior Manito-wish experience, or were invited after completing an interview process.

The data collection consisted of a two-part written survey administered before and after the camper's wilderness expedition. Additionally demographic and trip characteristics were acquired through camp resources. Within twenty-four hours of their arrival at Manito-wish, campers were administered two surveys. The first of these surveys, 1996 Revised Version of the Tennessee Self-Concept Survey (TSCS), was used to judge the participants' level of self-concept before embarking upon their wilderness experience (described below). The second survey, administered at the same time as the initial TSCS, was Driver and Tocher's (1996) Recreation Experience Preference (REP) scale (described below). This scale was used to assess the respondents' leisure motivations prior to participating in a wilderness expedition. This scale was administered at the same time as the first TSCS was administered. The participants then took part in a fourteen- to forty-three day wilderness-based expedition. Within twenty-four hours of returning from this experience the participants re-took the TSCS in order to assess the level of change in self-concept as a result of participating in the wilderness-based expedition. The participants also took Monz's satisfaction survey (described below) in conjunction with the second TSCS in order to measure their level of satisfaction with the wilderness-based expedition they had just experienced.

Findings indicated that participation in Camp Manito-wish, YMCA. Outpost program increased self-concept in all ten dimensions tested, nine to a statistically significant level. Three variables were identified that had a significant effect upon this increase in self-concept, gender, pre-trip motivation, and post-trip satisfaction, while trip type and length had no significant impact upon self-concept change.

What does this mean to camp directors and other professionals? First and foremost it reinforces the positive benefit of wilderness experiences for adolescent growth. It furthers the belief and research that points to the increased benefits of wilderness for our female participants. The hinge here is the wilderness experiences; there needs to be access to this wilderness. There needs to be an immersion into the wild, not necessarily of length but of quality. This research found no difference in self-concept change between a fourteen- and forty-five day trip, meaning that there is an optimal trip length for change to occur, and it is somewhere shorter than this, a subject which is for further research.

The relationship between pre-trip motivation and change in self-concept yields an interesting result for recreation programs. The research showed that the strongest motivation for participants was to be with similar people, this area also resulted in a significant change in self-concept. With the knowledge that Manito-wish Outpost program is comprised almost entirely of previous Manito-wish campers, the data lends to the importance that adolescent place on these friendships, be they only for a few weeks every summer. We need to foster these friendships, during the summer and the off-season, in order to perpetuate camper retention and keep the beds full.

It is a unique combination of these and additional variables that cause the outcomes we as recreation professionals seek as a result from experience within our programs. It is through this understanding of the outcomes our programming has upon our consumer base that we are able to adjust and advance our programming in order to further our missions as individual programs. It then is up to us to continue researching. It is through research isolating individual and multiple outcomes that we will be able to understand what causes self-concept growth and be able to program for specific growths. Further research is needed in order to more clearly identify and define the aspects of the wilderness experience and its participants that produce these increases in self-concept.

Gwynn Powell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Georgia.
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Author:Powell, Gwynn
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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